A Documentary Film by Camilo Silva

1926 :: The Brown Derby restaurant opens

Posted by on Jul 19, 2012 in 1920's, Ambassador Blog | 0 comments

The Brown Derby began as the brainchild of Herb Somborn (the husband of actress Gloria Swanson), Wilson Mizner (a well known screenwriter), and Sid Grauman (of Chinese Theater fame). One night in 1925, they were chatting with Ben Frank, the manager of the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel, and Somborn remarked, “You could open a restaurant in an alley and call it anything, or you could even build it in the shape of a hat, and if the food and service were good, the patrons would come flocking.” (Mizner’s version was that hesaid to Somborn: “If you know anything about food, you can sell it out of a hat.”) No matter who thought of it first, they opened the first Brown Derby in 1926 on Wilshire Boulevard across from the Ambassador Hotel. Rumor had it that the original cash for the venture came from studio head Jack Warner, who remained a silent partner. The walls were covered with caricatures of famous

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stars — and telephones were brought to the tables of stars who received calls while dining (there were telephone jacks at each booth). It was the only one of the four Derby restaurants built in the shape of the famous hat. In 1931 the Beverly Hills Brown Derby opened at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive. The last of the Derbies opened in Los Feliz in 1941.

Bob Cobb
Bob Cobb at the Brown Derby.

But it was the Hollywood Brown Derby on Vine Street, just south of Hollywood Boulevard, that was the most famous. It opened on Valentine’s Day 1929, and it soon became the place where the entertainment elite came to dine. To achieve the standards set for this little Derby, Somborn selected a young friend who had been raised in the restaurant business. This was Robert H. Cobb, who was the combination food checker, steward, buyer, cashier, and occasional cook when the first Derby opened. After the deaths of Mizner and Somborn, it was Cobb who took over the restaurants in 1934. The Original Cobb Salad

One night in 1937, Cobb was weary of the steady hot-dog-hamburger diet, and prowled hungrily in his restaurant’s kitchen for a snack. Opening the huge refrigerator, he pulled out this and that: a head of lettuce, an avocado, some romaine, watercress, tomatoes, some cold breast of chicken, a hard-boiled egg, chives, cheese and some old-fashioned French dressing. He started chopping. Added some crisp bacon — swiped from a busy chef. Cobb’s midnight invention was so tasty that Sid Grauman, who was with Cobb that midnight, asked the next day for a ‘Cobb Salad.’ It was put on the menu and became an overnight sensation with Derby customers — people like movie mogul Jack Warner, who regularly dispatched his chauffeur to pick up a carton.   The Wilshire location was the only location of the Brown Derbies in the shape of a hat. It catered to those staying or treading the Ambassador as well as seconding as a place to go other than the Coconut Grove, located inside of the Ambassador Hotel. http://www.sportshollywood.com/hollywoodcobb.html

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